Woman very hurt by her son’s tattoo

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Interesting, as a document recording very strong emotions over something I would think of as minor:

She says, “Tell him how you feel.”

But I can’t. For a start, I know I’m being completely unreasonable. This level of grief is absurd. He’s not dying, he hasn’t killed anyone, he hasn’t volunteered to fight on behalf of a military dictatorship. But I feel as though a knife is twisting in my guts.

I get angry with myself. This is nothing but snobbery, I think – latent anxiety about the trappings of class. As if my son had deliberately turned his back on a light Victoria sponge and stuffed his face with cheap doughnuts. I am aware, too, that I associate tattoos on men with aggression, the kind of arrogant swagger that goes with vest tops, dogs on chains, broken beer glasses.

Is this what other women feel? Or perhaps, I think, with an uncomfortable lurch of realisation, just what older women feel. I stand, a lone tyrannosaurus, bellowing at a world I don’t understand.

Tattoos used to be the preserve of criminals and toffs. And sailors. In the 1850s, the corpses of seamen washed up on the coast of north Cornwall were “strangely decorated” with blue, according to Robert Hawker, the vicar of Morwenstow – initials, or drawings of anchors, flowers or religious symbols (“Our blessed Saviour on His Cross, with on the one hand His mother, and on the other St John the Evangelist”). “It is their object and intent, when they assume these signs,” says Hawker, “to secure identity for their bodies if their lives are lost at sea.”

Tattoos, then, were intensely practical, like brightly coloured smit marks on sheep.

Perhaps even then this was a fashion statement, a badge of belonging. Or just what you did after too much rum. Later, the aristocracy flirted with body art. According to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (they know a lot about tattoos), Edward VII had a Jerusalem cross on his arm while both his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later George V), had dragon tattoos. Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mum, had a snake on her wrist.

But you can do what you like if you’re rich.

…We sit down with cups of coffee. I open my mouth to speak and end up crying instead. I say, “You couldn’t have done anything to hurt me more.”

He is cool and detached. He says, “I think you need to re-examine your prejudices.”

I think, but I have! I’ve done nothing else for three days! But I don’t say that because we aren’t really talking to each other. These are rehearsed lines, clever insults flung across the dispatch box. (This is what comes of not exploding in anger in the heat of the moment.)